Upper House election set for July 11; race effectively starts as Diet adjourns

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The Cabinet on Wednesday formally set July 11 as the date of the next House of Councilors election, prompting all major parties to hurriedly open their campaign headquarters later in the day.

The 150-day regular Diet session adjourned the same day.

The official campaign period begins June 24. Upper House members and other lawmakers seeking re-election will quickly return to their home constituencies, leaving Tokyo’s Nagata-cho area — the epicenter of Japanese politics — almost empty for nearly a month.

“Fierce battles have already started across the country, particularly in single-seat constituencies,” said Shinzo Abe, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party. Half the seats in the upper chamber are contested every three years. The chamber currently has 247 seats, but the number will be lowered to 242 for the upcoming election as part of a reduction in the number of Diet seats.

Hirohisa Fujii, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, said the two major campaign issues are pension system reform and the Self-Defense Forces’ upcoming participation in the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq.

DPJ President Katsuya Okada told a meeting of lawmakers at the DPJ headquarters in Nagata-cho, “Let’s win through the election so that we will win many seats.”

The LDP currently holds 115 seats in the chamber. Its governing coalition partner, New Komeito, has 23.

The DPJ and DPJ-affiliated lawmakers occupy 72 seats, the Japanese Communist Party holds 20, and the Social Democratic Party has five.

During the 150-day session that began Jan. 19, the Diet endorsed the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq and enacted 135 laws, including a package enabling reform of the pension system, a law allowing Japan to take economic sanctions against North Korea, and completion of war contingency legislation. The final day saw the Upper House enact revisions to a public servants’ mutual aid program.